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Boston under curfew: scenes from an empty city

It was supposed to be a game night at Fenway Park, but Lansdowne Street was deserted.
It was supposed to be a game night at Fenway Park, but Lansdowne Street was deserted.Matthew J. Lee

On Lansdowne Street, the bulbs were still stadium bright, illuminating “Fenway Park: Home of the Boston Red Sox" for a barren block. There was supposed to be a game against the Tampa Bay Rays, but you could have parked anywhere and lay in the middle of the street and not seen a soul, a neon green “Game on!” sign from a nearby sports bar lighting up your solitary body.

Downtown, scaffolding glimmered under the nearly full moon, and office lights twinkled on 20th and 30th floors, but nobody moved between the buildings. In the Seaport, the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center and the typically bustling Westin Boston Waterfront hotel were deserted.

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On Monday night, just after the mayor’s new curfew went into effect, the city of Boston looked like a shuttered amusement park, all bright lights and no people — the rides were closed.

The Boston Public Health Commission last weekend issued a voluntary curfew between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. for everyone except those who “are actively providing or receiving COVID-19 essential services." The curfew began on Monday and extends until May 4; during that time, residents are asked to refrain from shopping or delivering or walking or running between those hours. In a city already largely shut down, the idea is to further restrict residents’ ability to come into contact with each other.

“I cannot stress enough that the actions we take now through the next several weeks will help curb the spread of this virus, and save lives,” said Mayor Martin J. Walsh on Sunday. The coronavirus has already killed 42 people in Suffolk County, and 356 people statewide.

And so, on the first night of the curfew, I drove through the city, searching for signs of — well, not life exactly. Where life used to be.

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It seemed that, for the most part, residents had listened to Walsh’s plea and stayed inside. Suddenly the boulevards of Boston seemed infinitely wide. Is it possible there were ever too many cars here?

Without inhabitants, Boston had transformed into a vision from some other world, though which world that is depends on your mood: maybe a post-apocalyptic scene from “I Am Legend,” with grass growing through the cracks on major streets and birds chirping next to vacant skyscrapers; maybe a more comforting scene from “Charlotte’s Web,” the one where Templeton the rat revels in an empty fairground, eating leftover hot dogs and racing past a darkened carousel. (Either case is probably a rat’s paradise, as Templeton would tell you.)

No one was out on the always bustling Hanover Street in the North End.
No one was out on the always bustling Hanover Street in the North End.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

The only place in the city where I saw a crowd of people was at the intersection of Melnea Cass Boulevard and Massachusetts Avenue, where a range of service providers are located and where people experiencing homelessness or struggling with drug addiction sometimes gather. On Monday just before 10 p.m., about 50 people had assembled there. The city said it is continuing to reach out to those who are homeless and has made hundreds of new shelter beds available.

Elsewhere in the city, there were still solitary figures moving through the streets: a few people dragged suitcases near North Station, walking past empty bars and a “Stay Home and Stay Safe” poster. A man wearing large headphones but no mask walked two dogs down Centre Street in Jamaica Plain; another ran by himself around Jamaica Pond, the moonlight reflecting off the glassy water.

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A few people in masks waited to board buses at Dudley Station, and in Southie, a biker with a flashing headlamp, an N95 mask, and a neon orange vest sped down a hill. Some people smoked cigarettes on the curb of residential streets; some carried takeout containers.

The typical centers of city life are silent under curfew. But new ones have emerged. Framed by the glass windows of Boston Medical Center’s emergency room, people donned masks and unbuttoned coats under fluorescent lights. Cars pulled into the driveway and parked on the curb; small groups entered the ER. A pink “thank you sign” was strung up behind the building. Inside the hospital’s walls, the city was still alive.

Beach Street in Chinatown on the first night of a voluntary 9 p.m. curfew.
Beach Street in Chinatown on the first night of a voluntary 9 p.m. curfew.Matthew J. Lee
The Seaport on the first night of the voluntary curfew.
The Seaport on the first night of the voluntary curfew.Matthew J. Lee
A lone pedestrian walks down Hanover Street in the North End.
A lone pedestrian walks down Hanover Street in the North End.Matthew J. Lee

Zoe Greenberg can be reached at zoe.greenberg@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @zoegberg.